BFI LFF 2021

True Things review – electrifying chemistry in a well-trodden romance

Sparks fly between Ruth Wilson and Tom Burke in Harry Wootliff's tale of a toxic relationship, but this isn't quite an affair to remember

Following the grounded relationship drama Only You, Harry Wootliff returns to excavate another type of whirlwind romance. This one, a toxic kind of love painted with painful honesty. But True Things struggles to carve its own path in this well-trodden tale of poisonous amour fou, and ends up failing to live up to the standard set by the director’s tender debut.

Well, at least we have Ruth Wilson and Tom Burke. The pair have such electrifying chemistry – whether they’re having a quickie in a car park or baring their souls to each other at dawn – that it’s easy to believe in their hot-and-cold, tumultuous affair. It begins in the Ramsgate benefits office where Kate (Wilson) works. She's unsatisfied with her life; he’s the blond-haired, ex-con that waltzes in to trigger a daredevil streak in her.

True Things excels in portraying how infatuation can obfuscate the red flags. Their first “date” at a postcard perfect lake in the countryside is bathed in golden light, as if the clouds have parted just for them. And that perfect serenity is only punctured when Blond (the film never reveals his real name) suddenly feels indifferent to her touch. At one moment, he’s calling her his soulmate and inviting her to a wedding in Spain. The next, he insults her with a cruel casualness before disappearing for days on end. She’s oblivious to his gaslighting, his manipulation, and his lies, inclined to believe that what they have is real. The rot seeps in before she has even realised that it’s taken over, infecting not just their connection but Kate herself, when it begins to affect her job and her relationships with everyone around her.

In turn, Wilson is magnificent in the way she internalises Kate’s anguish, before collapsing into a breakdown that sees cinematographer Ashley Connor abandon the formal restraint for dizzying camerawork and dreamlike sequences that accentuate Kate’s descent to rock bottom. Meanwhile, Burke has just about perfected the role of the magnetic douchebag following The Souvenir. It’s perhaps no coincidence that Joanna Hogg’s film also explores how a toxic relationship can destroy your confidence and sense of self-worth.

It’s a shame for True Things, then, that The Souvenir was much more successful at telling this story. True Things handles its subject matter with a great deal of subtlety to achieve its intimate realism, but it has too much of a delicate touch to truly leave a mark.

True Things was screened as part of the BFI London Festival London 2021. It will be released in UK cinemas on 11 March 2022.

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